Mothers around the world are commonly known to have eyes in the backs of their heads as a way to protect their kids and keep them out of mischief.
But now scientists have discovered a new twist to this: Livestock that have eyes on their bums are safer from predators such as lions.
SIMILAR CONCEPT WOULD APPLY TO LEOPARDS, FOR EXAMPLE
While this information may be of limited value if you live in the city centre, it is vital knowledge if you farm with livestock in attack-prone places such as Botswana’s Okavango Delta, for example.
Because, believe it or not, painting eyes on the posterior of cattle has now been statistically proven to discourage attacks from lions. The same would presumably apply to other predators such as leopards and tigers, for example.
But the study’s focus was on lions as they are the primary killers of livestock in the Okavango, where the four-year research project was carried out.
PREDATORS ARE ALSO LESS LIKELY TO BE KILLED BY FARMERS
An added benefit is that, at the same time it also helps protect the lions from the often deadly responses from farmers, who are safeguarding their herds against such attacks.
The reason these imitation eyes work is fairly straightforward. Because predators rely on stealth to sneak up on and attack their prey, if they believe they are being ‘watched’ then they are more likely to abandon the attack.
A similar principle already applies in nature to animal groups such as butterflies, birds, fish and amphibians. These have ‘eye patterns’ on various parts of their bodies that work to deter predators.
STUDY SHOWED ZERO DEATHS FROM CATTLE WITH PAINTED ‘EYES’
To test what was initially merely a hunch, the researchers involved just over 2 000 cattle. They painted about one-third of each herd with an artificial eye-spot design on the rump, one-third with simple cross-marks, and left the remaining third of the herd unmarked.
By the end of the research period of four years, none of the 683 ‘eye-cows’ were killed by ambush predators, while 15 (of 835) unpainted, and four (of 543) cross-painted cattle were killed.
“These results supported our initial hunch that creating the perception that the predator had been seen by the prey would lead it to abandon the hunt,” the researchers said.
A SIMPLE CROSS CAN ALSO DETER LION ATTACKS
“But there were also some surprises. Cattle marked with simple crosses were significantly more likely to survive than unmarked cattle from the same herd. This suggests that cross-marks were better than no marks at all, which was unexpected.”
The research results have recently been published in the academic journal Communications Biology.
The study was done by a team from the University of New South Wales in Australia, in collaboration with Dr J Weldon McNutt, Director of Botswana Predator Conservation, and Tshepo Ditlhabang, Coexistence Officer with Botswana Predator Conservation.